Women Of The Wall Pray At The Western Wall With Few Ultra-Orthodox Protesters

Jerusalem - Prayers by a liberal Jewish women's group at a key Jerusalem holy site passed without incident Sunday, in contrast to violent scuffles with ultra-Orthodox protesters a month ago.

The women wear prayer shawls and other religious articles that ultra-Orthodox tradition holds are strictly for men.

Police escorted the women to and from the site Sunday morning. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said some ultra-Orthodox men shouted insults, but police made no arrests.

Last month's prayer service by the Women of the Wall, a women's prayer group that seeks equality of worship at the Western Wall, was marred by violence as some protesters yelled obscenities and scuffled with police.

The group has been holding monthly prayer services on the first day of the Hebrew month at the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray, for more than two decades.

Until recently, many of the group's members had been arrested, accused by ultra-Orthodox leaders of violating "local custom." They have also faced legal battles in their bid to pray as they choose, and one of the group's leader's homes was recently vandalized. Then in April, a court order backed their right to pray at the Western Wall.

Women of the Wall said that more than 300 women attended the Sunday's prayers, which took place in a fenced-off area near the wall. The group said it was "one step closer to equality."

Israeli officials and lawmakers have been attempting to find a compromise that will satisfy both the women's group and the ultra-Orthodox. They have proposed establishing a new section at the Western Wall where men and women can pray together. The Women of the Wall insist on their right to pray as they want in the current women's section.

Under Orthodox Jewish practice, only men are wear prayer shawls and skullcaps, and most Orthodox Jews insist that only men may carry a Torah scroll. By contrast, the more liberal Reform and Conservative streams of Judaism, the largest denominations in the United States which are marginal in Israel, allow women to wear prayer shawls, be ordained as rabbis, lead services and read from the Torah.

Israel's ultra-Orthodox establishment opposes any inroads from these groups, fearing their customs and authority could be eroded. They maintain that visitors to the Western Wall, whose rabbi is ultra-Orthodox, must respect their practices.